Priestly Zeal for Christ
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

It’s really a pleasure to have the opportunity to preach in such a beautiful Church (Holy Name of Mary, Almonte, Ontario). I’ve known Father Lindsay [Harrison] for about 10 years now. How we met is very providential. When I was 17 years old, I hitchhiked to Nashville, Tennessee; I was a Bluegrass Banjo player, and at that time I hadn’t seen the inside of a Church since I was a small child. I got a lift from a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. [Monsignor Tom Wells], and he was the turning point in my life. I was so moved by his joy and his love for the Church, his love for the Eucharist, and his love for our Blessed Mother that I knew he belonged to a world that I had at one time known as a child, and I wanted back into that world. I came to see that the Eucharist was the key to that world, so I returned to the Church.

Father Tom Wells was a big part of my life after that time. Eventually I left the music industry to study Philosophy and at the same time discern a vocation to the priesthood. But I met a woman in my 2nd year and the thought came to me that “maybe I don’t want to be a priest after all.” We got married a year and a half later, and Father Tom witnessed our marriage. He also baptized our adopted daughter about 15 years ago. But he was murdered in the year 2000, the Church rectory was being robbed, and he was stabbed to death in the process.

A Lieutenant colonel of the Canadian army who had spent years in Washington and who was a good friend of Monsignor Wells had just moved to Ottawa. Father Wells had been trying to get us together for years, but we finally made contact with one another on the phone, after his death. I drove down here [Ottawa] with my daughter back in 2001 to stay with him and his family, and it was at that time that I’d met Fr. Lindsay. This Lieutenant colonel invited Fr. Lindsay over for supper when I was there.

But there was another reason I’d come to Ottawa that weekend in 2001. I had been arguing on a CBC Online discussion forum about Robert Latimer. I was the only one arguing that Latimer was a murderer, not a hero. One day I was verbally attacked by a number of participants, so I shut off the computer in despair. I remember my philosophy professor, Dr. Floyd Centore, telling me that very day that I shouldn’t give up, because, he said: “You don’t know who has been following the discussion”. Well, he was right, because when I turned on the computer again that evening, to my surprise a young lady with Cerebral Palsy had begun arguing against these people, and she said she’d been following the discussion for a while and decided to join me in battle after their verbal attack. So I followed their discussion for a while, and she was doing a great job arguing against them, until they started verbally attacking her.

In any case, I sent her an email, and she told me she gets around in an electric wheelchair and that she lives in Ottawa. I recognized the street she lived on, so I said to her: “Why don’t you pay a visit to St. Patrick’s Basilica that’s just down the road and spend some time in front of the Blessed Sacrament?” She did, and she felt tremendous peace. She wasn’t Catholic, but nonetheless, she went every day after that to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. After a while, she decided she wanted to become Catholic. I told her to register for the RCIA at St. Patrick’s.

So, when I was invited to this Lt. Colonel’s place in Metcalfe for that weekend, I told this young lady to meet me at Parliament Hill and we can go for a coffee. When I met Father Lindsay that night for supper, he informs me that he is being moved to St. Patrick’s Basilica and that he’ll be responsible for the RCIA.

Of course this young lady went through the program and became a Catholic the following year, and I was her sponsor. And that’s why I’m here this weekend, to visit her for a while; and I get to visit with Fr. Lindsay at the same time, and finally I get to preach in this beautiful Church.

So my life has been very providential, in ways far greater than this small window reveals. Looking back at my life, it is very easy to see the hand of God everywhere. But every human life is under the providential hand of God. And that’s why there is really nothing to fear in life. God is in control, not us. More than anything else, Jesus exhorted us not to worry, not to be afraid. Our life here is about learning to more deeply surrender ourselves to His providence and allow Him to take us where He will. It’s about learning to allow Him to use us. We are only small pawns in a very large game of chess that is far too vast and complicated for us to understand, but the good news is that God has already won that game, and all we have to do is allow ourselves to be used by Him, to be a pawn in his game, so as to eventually share forever in the joy of His victory. We can choose not to, we can choose to do things our own way, but in that case we place ourselves on the losing side of the board. It’s really up to us.

The readings for this Sunday are very interesting. The Lord mentions the priests and warns them. “If you do not lay it to heart, to give glory to my name, says the Lord of hosts, I will send a curse upon you and of your blessing I will make a curse. You have turned aside from the way, and have caused many to falter by your instruction”

I am very fortunate to have had great priests in my life, like Monsignor Tom Wells, or my Philosophy professor Father Claire Girodat, and more recently, priests like Fr. Lindsay. My family drifted away from the Church in the late 60s, and in some ways I think that was a blessing. I was spared all the nonsense that was going on in the Church at that time—it was only later, in the 80s, that I learned what was going on at that time. Priests were leaving the priesthood, there was widespread dissent in the Church, a number of bishops were weakening and caving in to the cultural pressure to compromise the more difficult demands of living a moral life, etc. I was spared all that; I was lost in Bluegrass music while attending public school. But I returned to the Church through the influence of a very joyful but orthodox Catholic priest, and was later formed by priests of the same stock. For these priests, their priesthood was not about them, it was all about Christ. That’s why I was extremely fortunate.

But unfortunately not everyone has been so fortunate. This First Reading repeats itself in every era of the Church: “If you do not lay it to heart, to give glory to my name, says the Lord of hosts, I will send a curse upon you and of your blessing I will make a curse. You have turned aside from the way, and have caused many to falter by your instruction”. Where was the glory being directed, if not to the Lord’s name? It was directed to themselves. These priests addressed in this First Reading were in it for their own glory. And the Pharisees exhibited the same twisted propensity. Christ speaks of this in the Gospel: “All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’”

I believe the Church has learned a great deal from the mistakes of a previous era. There was a time when there was a veritable plethora of vocations and almost anybody could become a priest. The psychological testing was probably not scrutinizing enough. And so priesthood became a very attractive option not just for those genuinely called, but also for people with a rather narcissistic inclination. And it still is, but I like to believe that we are more careful, for we are paying a heavy price for our previous lack of perspicacity.

So in the past, we had priests who would feed off the adulation of the congregation, who loved to be at the center of it all, who relished the status, and what happened was that they stopped teaching the difficult truths of the gospel. The result was that the potent red wine of the gospel was watered down to a sort of Kool Aid, because if I teach the difficult precepts of the gospel, I may not be very popular anymore with the majority of the congregation; for not everyone likes to be told they have to change, which is what conversion means, and for a Catholic, conversion is an ongoing and every day thing, not a one-time thing. So, the solution? Stop preaching the gospel. Tell jokes instead, keep it light, fill the homily with innocuous platitudes.

And so their primary goal was no longer to exhort the faithful to goodness, to genuine holiness, by cultivating virtue, but rather to make them feel good about themselves. As a result, parishes went years without hearing mention of sin, or the need for confession, certainly sexual morality was swept under the rug, homilies became very light, almost a non-stop barrage of jokes in some cases, confessionals became storage areas, and basic catechetical instruction was neglected.

And now some priests have to contend with whole parishes that have gone years without being exposed to the rich spiritual and intellectual heritage that is ours in the Church.

The gospel recognizes the office of Moses as teacher of the law. Jesus says: “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example”. He distinguishes between the office and the person.

And of course this is all the more true in regard to the office that Christ himself established, the office of Peter and the office of Apostle or bishop. We should not be scandalized when we hear of a bad bishop, or a priest who has gone astray. Christ promised the Apostles that the Holy Spirit would lead them to the complete truth. It’s a great gift to have a Church with a Magisterium that enjoys the charism of infallibility in matters pertaining to the salvation of our souls, that is, matters of faith and morals. Christ promised us that the deposit of faith would not be corrupted by man, and it was not, despite the sins of the members of the Church throughout the centuries. The office of bishop is a great gift, but we should not confuse the office with the person. Any good bishop knows that he is not worthy of such an office. A corrupt person occupying the office does not corrupt the office itself. Faithful Catholics seem to recognize this distinction, which is why they have stayed, despite recent scandals.

What we need to remember is that the office of bishop and the priesthood that participates in it has the power to do tremendous good. Here I was, a 17 year old who hadn’t seen the inside of a Church since the third grade, who knew nothing about the Catholic faith, and within two hours, after listening to a joyful and zealous priest on fire with the Holy Spirit, my whole life became centered around the pursuit of Christ, especially Christ in the Eucharist. And that is why priests and bishops are made a special object of diabolical attack. They have the power to do tremendous damage to the kingdom of darkness, so they are subject to temptations that many of us will never know. We have to pray for our priests and bishops, above all our Holy Father. And pray especially for our newly ordained priests, that they remain faithful, that they don’t despair, that they are given greater strength in this battle against this increasingly anti-religious culture, that they don’t fall into a kind of neo-clericalism and repeat the mistakes of a previous era, that they will be beacons of light in the darkness, that they will continue to witness to the world that true happiness does not come from having a sexual relationship, nor from financial security or a life of travel and leisure, but rather that true happiness, the foretaste of the joy of heaven, comes from knowing Christ and labouring for him and serving him in the poor, the afflicted, the suffering souls of this world.